When Judy Mandel sent me a note to let me know that her memoir, Replacement Child, was on The New York Times best-seller list for e-books, I was beyond excited for her. This is pretty much every author’s dream, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving person. I asked her to share with us how it happened — this is her story. In addition to authoring her memoir, Judy is a writing coach, teacher, and editor. Her essays and articles have appeared in Connecticut LIFE, Complete Wellbeing Magazine, The Southampton Review, and other publications. Learn more on her website.
How my memoir became a New York Times best-seller
By Judy L. Mandel
Sometimes it happens this way. An e-mail message pops up, like every other message you have ever gotten from your publisher. There is new interest in your book that’s been out for two years. Or a new inquiry. Or a new promotion. Whatever.
But one of those messages recently brought me news from my publisher that I never thought I would see.
The email subject line read: New York Times Best Seller.
I did what any reasonable author would do – I started crying.
Alarmed, my husband asked, “What? What is it? Is someone dead? What’s wrong?”
I handed him the phone to read the note. “Oh my God!” It was a unison chorus.
It was true!
Yes, it was true. My little book, now in backlist, had made the E-Book New York Times Best-Seller list – a writer’s dream come true. For a memoir of an unknown writer, that’s pretty much a shot at the moon.
Although I have always believed in the book and it had done reasonably well, I knew immediately that the reason for this burst of recognition came from my efforts to link my book to that of another famous author.
Judy Blume had released a novel, In the Unlikely Event, that used the same historical context for her fiction that rooted my memoir. Hers revolves around the community reaction to the real-life series of plane crashes that happened within 58 days in Elizabeth, N.J. in the ’50s. Mine centers on the second of those crashes that altered my own family. Her book brought mine a new audience.
How it happened
I had heard about Blume’s novel in early April from a reader of my book, Replacement Child. She lived in Elizabeth at the very site of the plane crash that hit my family’s home in 1952. She wrote to ask if Judy Blume had interviewed me, because she had talked to others in the town.
“Who would know more about the crashes than you?” she wrote. Blume had not.
Her book was due out in June. My first action was to notify my publisher, who was hesitant to infringe on Blume’s book launch plans with any tie-in to my book. So, never one to let sleeping dogs lie, or even take a nap, I wrote directly to Blume on her website, thinking I had a 50-50 chance that she would write back.
It took a few days, but she did indeed write me a thoughtful note. It was then that I realized that all the hype about Blume being a down-to-earth, generous, and warm person was true. She told me she had read Replacement Child when she started researching her book in 2009.
“Of course I’ve read your wonderful book,” she said.
Be still my heart.
Don’t be afraid to ask
I was content for a day with this exchange. When I mentioned it to my son, he encouraged me to ask Blume for some recognition. I practically begged for a morsel and she wrote back again: “Of course I plan to acknowledge your book in mine and to blog about it later.”
She sent me a signed advance copy, bookmarked to the acknowledgment: “Replacement Child by Judy L. Mandel is a book I recommend to anyone curious about the true story of one family who was caught up in the tragedy of the second plane crash.”
I was ecstatic. I read her book, an incredibly good read that got all the facts right and even mentioned my dad’s jewelry store on Broad Street, which tickled me. I called my publisher again and sent the quote from her book so that they could use it in my promotions, which they did. I also wrote a full review of Blume’s book on Amazon, mentioning my book as the real-life story. It has been the top-rated review for quite awhile on her page, for which she thanked me. Not that she needs little old me.
When you have a book that has tie-ins to anything currently in the news, take advantage of it. Write a blog post, find a hook, find some way to connect it into the subject matter of your book so that people take notice. It won’t be the same for every book, so keep sharp to the world around you.
And, never say never!
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